News - February 2006





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A new year message

Chinhoyi Arrests

Moral negligence

Who will be answerable for hungry people?

Under cover of darkness

A night of terror


Human Rights Group under attack

Another farmer attacked

Zim Independant
The Standard
Human Rights Forum
ZW News
Eddie Cross letters The Zimbabwe Situation


Chinhoyi Arrests

Moral negligence

Who will be answerable for hungry people?

Under cover of darkness

A night of terror

Daily News
Zim Independant
The Standard
Financial Gazette
Human Rights Forum
ZW News


The Earth Moved

Saturday 25th February 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Something amazing happened in Zimbabwe this week. On Wednesday night at 20 minutes past midnight the earth shook for a few minutes. The earthquake which measured 7.5 on the Richter scale was centred in Espungabera, a small farming town in a remote area of Mozambique near the Zimbabwe border. The earthquake was felt as far as 1000 kilometres away from the epicentre. In north east Zimbabwe beds shook, furniture trembled and glasses and plates tinkled on shelves in cupboards. Many of us heard a rushing noise like a high wind just as the shaking started and had no idea about what to do or where to go to be safe. It was a confusing and frightening experience, exacerbated by our ignorance as earthquakes are virtually unknown in Zimbabwe.

At 6am the following morning, the obvious place to get news and information about the strange shaking in the night, was the state owned radio and television. I listened in confusion and disbelief as the headline morning news wasn't about an earthquake, tremors or shaking but about the "unbundling" of Air Zimbabwe into six individual companies. This "unbundling" is the latest phenomenon of loss making government companies here. Instead of being closed down or privatized, these huge debt ridden establishments are split up into lots of different little companies. 'Unbundling' is the 'Zim-glish' word that had sprung up to describe this strange activity which I suppose is undertaken to share the debts and make the losses look smaller than they actually are. The second story on the first news bulletin of the day was about some scandal with a stripper on Valentines Day and still not about an earthquake and so I gave up and went looking for news elsewhere.

For one day, we had something else to talk about in Zimbabwe, something other than massive price rises and inflation that is going up faster than anyone can cope with. In queues everywhere, whether for passport forms, cash machines or petrol, a strange shaking in the middle of the night was the only topic of conversation and it brought Zimbabweans together. Everyone, everywhere was talking about the earthquake but by lunch time it was still not making headline news on state owned television which was now talking about bumper harvests and the Presidents 82nd birthday party. On Thursday evening, 18 hours after the earthquake, I was forced to give up trying to find out about the tremors as the electricity had gone off - again. A lot of people were worried about aftershocks but we were mostly in the dark - literally and figuratively. For six hours the next night, sitting in the dark with only the sound of hordes of screeching mosquitoes it was hard not to think scary and superstitious thoughts as we waited for more shaking. When the power did finally come back on the television was again talking about the the nationwide celebrations planned to commemorate President Mugabe's 82nd birthday party. It seems that even the earth moving does match the importance of birthdays.
Until next week, love cathy

Good Lord Deliver Us

Saturday 18th February 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
The Litany Bird is back in my neighbourhood this week and it is cause for considerable comfort to hear its voice these evenings. The fiery necked nightjar is a nocturnal bird and lays its eggs on the ground amongst a small scratch of leaves. Its piercing call, such a familiar Zimbabwean sound in the early evenings and on moonlit nights, is matched to the words Good Lord Deliver Us. It is amazing that the nightjars have managed to survive another year in our dirty, plundered and ravaged semi urban environment. They have survived the fires that scorched every inch of bush 6 months ago. They have survived the endless flow of men, women and children who walk out into the bush every day with axes to chop trees, hoes to dig roots and packets to collect mushrooms and fruits. The Litany Birds have miraculously survived the boys who aren't in school anymore because the fees are just too expensive; boys who harvest birds with catapaults and boys who climb trees to take eggs and fledglings in every nest they find. The Litany Birds have also survived the unemployed young men who walk into the bush in small groups every day. They are armed with crude home made weapons and follow lean and fearsome packs of hunting dogs which flush out every living creature.

This February the Litany Birds are back, they have survived the piles of garbage dumped in the bush, the people and the plunder and they cry out defiantly every evening. Their voices give hope for a similar resilience for our people and country.

The call of the Litany Birds is particularly appropriate for Zimbabwe this week. Over 150 women in Bulawayo and 240 in Harare were arrested for trying to march on Valentines Day. Unarmed women, calling only for dignity and food were arrested. Some of the women carried babies, they too were taken into police cells. As I sat in the dark this week, in these evenings of incessant power cuts, I listened to the Litany Bird calling out Good Lord Deliver Us and I struggled to find peace. It was hard not to think of ordinary women: mothers, daughters, sisters, some with babies - crammed into police cells. I feel such shame that things like this are happening in our beautiful country and so ashamed that for 6 years we have watched helpless, rudderless and aimless as everything has deteriorated to the most appalling levels.

In one week in Zimbabwe there are now so many horrors that it is hard to accept that such things can really be happening. This week we hear that the Gweru mortuary which can only hold 24 bodies, has over 100 corpses in it. State media reports that the cooling plant in the mortuary has broken and that nurses and doctors are complaining of the smell. This week we hear municipal authorities in Harare blaming overflowing sewers and burst pipes in the Capital city on dumped babies and aborted foetuses. The cold, callous and inhumane way in which the reports are presented are almost as unbearable as the facts they tell of. Good Lord Deliver Us.

In Memory of Paul

Saturday 11th February 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
There has been a lot of talk this week about an article in an English newspaper which said that white commercial farmers were about to be given the chance to lease back farms that were seized by the government over the past six years. It is an article in which sources aren't named, quotes aren't given and Ministers were "not available for comment" but everyone knows there is no smoke without fire so something is very likely going on. Almost as soon as the article appeared in print there was a flurry of denials from Zimbabwe. On Thursday night on State TV, Lands Minister Didymus Mutasa poured scorn on the article saying it was "nonsense." The Minister went on to say that any whites still on their farms were actually there illegally and should immediately come forward and ask the government for permission to keep growing food.

The Commercial Farmers Union then stepped into the fray and issued a statement to " the government and people of Zimbabwe." I am not sure who the Commercial Farmers Union represents now that 90% of the country's farmers have had their land seized by the government, however they obviously thought now was a good time to do a bit more grovelling. Calling for the government to "bring all stakeholders together," the CFU said, and I quote: "Whilst current conditions are indeed tough and testing, it is not the time for recrimination or going back - it is the time to draw the line and go forward, learning from the past."

It took less than a day for Zimbabwe's Minister of Agriculture to trash the CFU's statement and spit on the hand the CFU were holding out - if that is what they were doing. Minister Made said that only dreamers would make such calls and said: "The white farmers have suddenly realised their irrelevance in the current agricultural set-up and have decided to write statements instead of accepting reality."

To complete the confusion, the week ended with a statement by Justice for Agriculture - the organisation whose name describes their function. JAG said they "noted with concern" the CFU statement. JAG had the guts to do what the CFU didn't do. JAG spelled out the facts that every Zimbabwean is only too painfully aware of. JAG said that 90% of seized farms were lying idle and that this years national production levels would be the lowest ever recorded despite an excellent rainy season. JAG said that there continued to be a breakdown of law and order in farming areas, no respect for property rights,moveable farming assets, livestock, crops and personal household effects in farming areas. JAG also pointed out one critical fact that almost all these media reports leave out. The fact that it wasn't just 4000 white farmers who were dispossessed when the government grabbed the farms, it was thousands of farm workers together with their wives, children, unemployed relations and members of their extended families.

I write my letter this week in memory of Paul who died at 4am on Monday morning. Paul's life began to fall apart three years ago when he lost his job in the land seizures. I pray he rests in peace and am glad he has been released from the struggles of pain, hunger and penury he endured these last three years.
Until next week, love cathy

Fat cats making money

Monday 6th February 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Writing a letter this week is no mean achievement, being able to actually send it is going to be another matter altogether. Since my letter seven days ago, we have had electricity cuts every day. At least once but sometimes twice and even three times a day the power just goes off without warning and has resulted in 47 hours without electricity in my home town. It is not unusual now, in the middle of the day, in the middle of summer to see smoke rising from gardens and chimneys in the suburbs as people cook food and boil water on open fires. When the power does come on there is no guarantee that it will stay on and so there is a frantic rush to cook the next meal, do the ironing, work on the computer or charge cellphones and batteries.

For businesses, these power cuts are diabolically bad news. Machines stop, engines and pumps go quiet, computers, ATM's and tills are silent and only those who can afford generators are able to keep operating. Little shops which have only been surviving our 600% hyper inflation by offering things like photocopying or computer services, are shuddering to a silent stop. All around Marondera this week the sight has been the same - workers and customers together, sitting outside on the pavements waiting for the electricity to come back on. You almost don't need to ask what's wrong now when you see a stationery queue, you just raise your eyebrows and someone either shrugs or shows empty hands and you know - no power. As has become the norm in Zimbabwe, whenever there is a shortage of something, for whatever reason, you can guarantee that some fat cat is making money out of it. In the last couple of months the price of small generators have soared from a few million to hundreds of millions and are out of reach of virtually everyone. Even more despicable though is the way the money makers even turn on the poorest of the poor. The price of candles have soared in the last fortnight as the power cuts have become more frequent and widespread. When you can find them, a packet of six locally made candles are now over a quarter of a million dollars.

To make life a little tougher this week have been water cuts which covered two full days and a telephone system just hanging on by a very thin and frayed thread. In the last seven days my telephone has worked for less than one hour in total. It pings incessantly, day and night, but there is no one there. Lifting the receiver either leaves you listening to complete strangers having long and loud conversations or a rash of electronic buzzing, hissing and static but no dialing tone and no chance of making a call. Numerous reports and visits to the state owned telephone company have not achieved anything yet - they are overwhelmed with faults; a result of no money, no spare parts, very little maintenance and being run by a government in economic meltdown.

I do not know how soon I will be able to send this letter but will do so as soon as both electricity and telephone are working at the same time.
Until next week, love cathy

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